Recently we received a comment from a customer who took issue with our use of the terms two way radio and walkie talkie in one of our older posts. Apparently the customer was searching for a two way radio but after locating radios listed as walkie talkies, considered it a misdirection to another line of products, presumably perceiving that an item labeled as a walkie talkie was inferior to another item labeled as a two way radio. According to the customer, walkie talkies and two way radios are not the same.
In reality, the terms walkie talkie and two way radio are often considered interchangeable, at least here in the US, and are sometimes even used together in the same conversation to reference the same thing. As a US based company, our use of these terms is based on their common accepted usage within our country. These terms may be used differently in other countries, so it is, by no means, an absolute.
Of course, there is a difference between a two way radio and a walkie talkie that is somewhat universal. Technically speaking, the two are not the same thing, although in some cases, they can be. To understand the difference, we need to define the terms.
A two way radio is a radio that can operate two ways, that is, it has the ability to both transmit and receive a radio signal, as opposed to a radio that can only receive. A two way radio can either operate in a half-duplex or full duplex mode. Half-duplex allows the radio to transmit or receive in turn but not both simultaneously. Full-duplex allows the radio to transmit and receive at the same time. A two way radio is also commonly called a transceiver, because it can both transmit and receive radio communications. In either case, the radio operates two ways; it can send and it can receive.
A walkie talkie is a portable two way radio, particularly one that can be held in the hand. This type of radio, also known as a handy talkie, handheld transceiver or HT, allows you to talk on the radio while walking around, hence the name walkie talkie.
Now that we’ve defined the terms, let’s consider the argument. Are these terms interchangeable? Well, yes and no.
According to the definition, a walkie talkie is a two way radio, but a two way radio is not always a walkie talkie. This is because there are types of radios that are not portable handhelds, such as a mobile radio mounted in a vehicle or a desk or wall mounted base station.
But, it can be one. In fact, most, if not all manufacturers of business, CB, consumer, marine and amateur portable handheld radios or walkie talkies do not usually refer to their products as “Walkie Talkies”, but as “Two Way Radios”.
This is understandable, considering the history of the walkie talkie. It originally referred to the portable backpack transceivers used in the military during World War II. More recently it became associated with consumer grade FRS radios. The term has also long been used to refer to extremely low power radios sold as toys and that stigma, while misdirected, still exists today. Given that, it’s no wonder some folks shun products labeled as walkie talkies in search of a “real” two way radio.